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"The Mystery of God"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 16, 2018
By Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Isaiah 55:6-9

Great God of heaven and earth, out of the greatness of Your heart, and in the mystery of Your love, forgive our sins for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ. And in His saving Name give us repentance unto life, and faith in Christ to enjoy the mystery of life to the full. In Christ's Name we pray. Amen.

Today we begin the 46th season of broadcasting the Gospel, bringing Christ to the nations. Who would have believed at the beginning of this century that you could talk through a microphone and people would hear the message all over the world? Who would have believed, when radio did become a reality, that the Good News of Jesus Christ would be the most extensively broadcast program in the whole world? It is a privilege to talk to you today about the mystery of God. The word of Isaiah has come true.

"Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel. For He hath glorified thee. Seek ye the Lord while He may be found. Call ye upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord and He will have mercy on him. And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. 'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' saith the Lord."

There have always been people who have claimed to know all about God. They know so much about Him that they can tell you He does not exist, or they know so much about Him they can tell you exactly what He is thinking. To a lot of people, religious and non-religious, God is no mystery at all. Either they have pushed Him out of the world He has made, or they have Him in their hip pockets.

The great God does not hold still for that kind of stuff. He is not awed by the irreligious people, and He is not particularly impressed with the religious people either. Nobody has been saved by bitter bravado, and nobody's going to be saved by sweet piety either. "The mystery of God," said Isaiah, "is a bittersweet mystery." It is for people of all kinds. Those who are bitter against Him for what they consider His lack of concern, and those who sweetly peddle religious truth about Him as though He were a creation of their making.

The great God does His own thing in the world. He has His own being, and He thinks His own thoughts. Our human words are very inadequate to describe Him. His prophets and apostles often had to use pictures in order to help us understand who He is and what He is like. "Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those that fear Him," said the psalmist.

"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up," said the Son of God who came to be a Man for us all by the design of His Father. "As the wind blows and you don't know where it is coming from or where it is going, so is the Spirit of God," said Jesus Christ of the Spirit He promised to send.

"My thoughts are not your thoughts. Neither are your ways My ways," saith the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts," said the mighty God through His prophet Isaiah. It is a bitter truth.

God is so invisible that people get bitter over that fact. They keep saying, "He is so deaf," and they keep on asking, "Why doesn't He ever listen?" It is hard to love passionately and believe firmly in someone who is so hidden from all of us. If only we could just once see Him with our own eyes. We keep on saying, as the Lord's disciples did to Him, "Show us the Father. You keep on talking about God our Father, and now we would like to see Him as he is."

We keep on forgetting what the Son said in answer to that bitter complaint. "Have I been so long with you and yet you have not known Me? He who has seen Me has seen the Father." The hiddenness of God, which is undeniable, becomes the openness of God when you see His Son, Jesus Christ.

That's why we keep proclaiming Jesus Christ to people all over the world, bringing Christ to the nations. There you see God, not with the answer to every question you may have, but with His sunshine smiling through the clouds. Not ignoring sin, and saying that it doesn't make any difference, but forgiving sin through the terrible instrument of a cross where His Son suffered and died for the sins of the world. Not removing the perils of life, but giving the promise of life through faith in that Son of His who died and rose again.

The Word of God by which the world was created is not a forbidding roar, but an invitation from the great God Himself to believe in Him, and to be saved. It is a call to repent and believe, even as His Son called people to repent and believe. Oh, you of little faith, how slow you are to believe. How ready we are to believe almost anyone or anything, and how unready to believe God, the hidden God who discloses His thoughts and His ways in such a strange way, through the death and the resurrection of His Son.

People say, "Yes, we know there is a God, but why is He so inactive? If only He would do something and show us that He is in charge and in control." "Go to the ant, you lazy people," said the writer of the book of Proverbs, "There are seven things that the Lord hates and cannot tolerate. A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that kill innocent people, a mind that thinks of wicked plans, feet that hurry off to do evil, a witness who tells one lie after another, and a man who stirs up trouble among friends."

That's God talking to people. Maybe you recognize yourself somewhere in those words. They tell about people who do not have the courage to live nor the grace to die because they don't believe in God. God is simply too inactive for them to believe.

"Go to the cross," said the apostles of Jesus Christ. "Go to the cross and see the Son of God. See Him die for what you have done, and then go to the grave nearby from which the stone has been rolled away. See where He lay, and where He is no more. He is alive and well, He is the Lord of heaven and earth, having been raised from the dead and declared to be the Son of God with power by resurrection from the dead."

This is God doing in the world, doing His own thing in the world. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down and the snow from heaven, and returns not thither, but waters the earth and makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes forth out of My mouth. It shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the things whereto I sent it."

"God is so cruel," people say. "Why should He take my loved one from me? Why should our baby have been born blind? Why are hundreds of people killed in massive earthquakes, floods, typhoons, and cyclones? Why does God let people slaughter one another in wars? Why does He let our dear ones waste away with cancer? Why does God just sit there, silently, coldly, and cruelly, not doing anything?" People who ask those questions are getting pretty close to the mystery of God. It is a bitter mystery.

If He is all good and all loving and all powerful, how can one account for all the evil and all the suffering in the world? If God is love, how can all of these things be explained? Those questions which occur to all of us bring us close to the mystery, the awful mystery, of God. They take us close to Him whose thoughts are not our thoughts, and whose ways are not our ways, as He Himself has said.

Is there no way out of the bitterness except to brave it out as if God does not exist, or as if God does not care? Is there no good news to overcome all the bad news? The message of Isaiah, which he got from God Himself, is good news. It is good news from God and good news about God.

"Everyone that thirsts," trumpeted the prophet, "come to the waters, and he that has no money come and buy and eat. Yes, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness, incline your ear and come unto Me. Hear, and your soul shall live, and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David, behold I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and a commander to the people."

The invitation is to a meal. It is a meal with God. It's to eat the bread of life, and drink the water of liberation from slavery. It is to trust in God, even though you don't understand everything about God. It is to depend on Him, that He is good, and His mercy endures forever. The meal is absolutely free. He who has no money, come, buy, and eat. The price has been paid. It was paid by the Man who died on a tree and was raised from a tomb. That price has been paid, and the meal is free. The meal is for everybody, everyone who thirsts come to the waters. The invitation is all-inclusive.

No one is too bad or too wicked or too far gone. The only requirement is to be hungry and thirsty. Really wanting what God offers and gives, that which satisfies, eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in the richness of it all. God invites everyone, including you, to have faith in Him. God invites you to trust Him, that He is good and forgiving, and that He forgives whatever you have done and whatever you have been.

Now can you say that you can't trust Him? That you can't believe in Him? His covenant is everlasting and real. "My love did not fail David," says the Lord, "and My love will not fail you. My promises are unfailing and absolutely sure. My Word goes forth out of My mouth and never comes back empty. It does what I want it to do, it brings what I myself have to give." That's God's Word. God's Word is His own, His own amen to His own promises.

God's own great amen is His Son, Jesus Christ. The apostles of Christ called Him that, God's own amen to the world. The great living, dying, rising, ascended, and praying Christ is God's amen to the promises of God Himself. When God says amen to you, you better believe it. By faith in His Son and the love that goes with it, God Himself makes you an attractive person.

He says so, Isaiah said, "He glorifies you. It may be like dying and being raised again, but it's all glory, as it was for the Son of God who died and was raised again for our justification, that you and I might stand in the presence of God forgiven and forgiving, glorified by God Himself." These words of Isaiah, that came from God, went to a people who were in a bad way. They were like exiles from their own people, and strangers in a foreign land.

The Word went out to people like that, "You shall go out, enjoy, and be led forth with peace. The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up a fir tree, and instead of the briar shall come up a myrtle tree, and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."

God takes back the prodigals, and He makes them into people again. This is the greatest mystery of all. It's the mystery of all mysteries that God should care enough to do as He has done and as He always does. He loves as only God can. It's not so much that we love God, but that He loved us and gave His Son to be an everlasting sacrifice for all of our sins. That Word of His will never return empty. No Word of God ever returns empty.

"One day," says God Himself to you, "even your grave will be empty. You won't be there Anymore. You will be out and free from death, just as My Son was freed from death by resurrection to life." It's a mystery, the mystery of God Himself. "It's a mystery," said St. Paul, "but the day will come when the trumpet will blow, and we shall be changed."

You're getting close to that mystery when you put your faith in God and in what He means, in what He says. "There's a new world waiting in the wings," says the Lord. "It is a world where joy will replace bitterness, where instead of the thorn will come up the fir tree, and instead of the briar will come up the myrtle tree. It's like a sign that will not be cut off, and it will all glorify the Name of God." It is also very near, near to each one of us. It's near to you, right now at this moment. It's yours for the taking.

With faith in God and in His Son, whom God gave for the life of the world, and raised from the dead to be the Lord of life and of heaven and earth. It is the real mystery of God with grace never failing and glory never ending. As Martin Luther said, "The true treasure is the Gospel of the grace and glory of God. It is His grace you see in Jesus Christ, and it is His glory you have by faith in Jesus Christ." What a mystery, what a grace, what a glory there is in God.

Call upon Him, my friend, while He is near. Seek the Lord while He may be found. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord and He will have mercy on him, and to our God for He will abundantly pardon. Great mystery, good news, "for My thoughts are not your thoughts," says the Lord, "neither are your ways My ways," says the Lord, "for as the heavens are higher than the earth," says the Lord, "so are My ways higher than your ways," says the Lord, "and My thoughts than your thoughts," says the Lord. Amen.

Reflections for September 16, 2018

Title: The Mystery of God by Tony Cook

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and that was Dr. Oswald Hoffmann from a message first heard in September of 1978. Dr. Tony Cook joins me now, here in the studio. He's the director of U.S. Ministries here at Lutheran Hour Ministries. Tony, as you've studied theology, have you found that that study of God helps to clear up that mystery of God that Dr. Hoffmann was talking about?

Tony Cook: It's funny because I used to think so when I was younger. I think I was the smartest I ever was when I was when I was 20. Do you know how that goes? I can remember when I entered into my undergraduate training, and I was getting my B.A. in theology, I can remember having these long debates with fellow students and quoting chapter and verse and page number of doctoral books, and I thought I knew everything. The funny thing about that is, I did not. The older I got, and the more I studied Scripture, the more I realized that God really isn't something that can be wholly contained in a textbook, or in a class that you take in college.

Mark Eischer: And yet, at the same time, God promises that we will find Him in a particular book, that is in His holy Word. How does that come about?

Tony Cook: Well, it's interesting because, obviously, God is a mystery. We heard that in a sermon. God is beyond us. God is larger than us. Theologically, we say God is, in many ways, hidden or obscured from us. So, if God is outside our reach, and our reason, and our experience, and our emotions, it's not something that we do, it's something that God is going to do to make Himself known. I think, a lot of times we think about the goal is for us to find God. But, in many ways, God provides a way of making Himself known to us, and finding us, and His Word. Specifically, His Word with a capital W, the Word, is how He makes Himself known.

Mark Eischer: God is present everywhere, but He makes Himself known to us in specific ways, I think, for our protection. Luther had a quote, something to that effect, he talked about God being everywhere. He's in water, and fire, and in rope. But, He doesn't want us to look for Him everywhere, lest we drown ourselves in the water, burn ourselves in the fire, and hang ourselves with the rope. So, it's for our protection that God says, "Here's where I'm going to be found, look for Me here."

Tony Cook: Exactly. And, from our Bible passage, from the sermon, "Seek the Lord while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near." So, if you think about the distance, if you will, between God and humanity, and God reaching out and bridging that distance. There's probably a lot of ways He could've done that, but we find out in Scripture that He makes that bridge in His Son, Jesus, and that God makes Himself known in this Man named Jesus. And really, when you think about it, it's beautiful, because how could we access God in something that's outside of our ability to understand.

But, here's Jesus, in the flesh, in the world, in history, and He says, "When you see Me, when you come to Me, then you see the Father. Then, you know what the Father's will is, what His pleasure is for this world, what His plan is for this world." So, Jesus becomes the image of, the living representation of what God would want us to know-the Father would want us to know-about Himself. So, in many ways, Jesus is the Word, and the Bible that we have today, now that we're not walking around with Jesus, is the Word about the Word. So, we read that Word and we see Jesus, and in Jesus, God is no longer hidden but God reveals Himself, and that revelation is very specific and important, not only for us, but for the world.

Mark Eischer: So, in Jesus, the mysterious God becomes perhaps, a little bit less mysterious. What is it that Jesus specifically reveals to us about God?

Tony Cook: I think that's where the beauty of this is. You think about a hidden God, and what is He thinking, what is He doing, what is He like? Does He care about me? Is He angry with me? And then, you have Jesus, and Jesus said, "Hey, I'm gonna tell you what the Father thinks and what He feels, and this is what He thinks and feels. He sent Me to give you this message, that He is preparing a place for you so that you can live with Him forever, and that through Me, you can come back home. You can be reunited to your Father." And so, when all of the clouds of mystery are parted, what we learn is that our God is a loving and gracious God, and in Jesus, we find the Way, and the Truth, and the Life that brings us back home.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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